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Of all the indignities of motherhood, not many come close to last Saturday – as I crouched low in the graffiti’d toilet stall of an underground bar, milking myself into the bowl. I am happy, nay proud, to say I was a little bit drunk. Awesome-drunk. The kind where you’re just a bit loose and full of yourself, and you can’t seem to help making the people around you laugh.
It was such a great night and one I desperately needed – following roughly 20 months of enforced sobriety – but because it’d been so long I’d forgotten the very important fact that breastfeeding breasts need regular emptying. And so here I was – swaying slightly, giggling to myself as breastmilk squirted off in every direction, eavesdropping on a couple of girls waiting to use the loo, who were busy complimenting a boy’s eye makeup.
That was the other thing about this gig – the crowd was different from most of the others I go to. For a start they were young – most in their late teens to early twenties – but aside from that it was pretty tough to make assumptions about any of them. They were boys in dresses and girls with their heads clean shaven, girls kissing other girls and boys giggling shyly into their drinks. The DJ performed in a tight red skivvy under a denim dress, working the wind of a nearby fan to great effect, posing and batting his lashes as the draft played with his hair. In the middle of the room a very tall, hairy guy in a singlet jumped up and down on the spot for a full two hours while next to him, a chubby character in black mesh waved a fan marked with the word “femme”. It was unquestionably the most diverse crowd of people I’ve ever had the pleasure of being part of, and the atmosphere was charged with good vibes. I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face.
You might wonder what this has to do with parenting, but dancing in that room that night got me thinking about my kids – about the fact that my four-year-old daughter is already opting for clothing decorated with bunnies and unicorns, where her little brother is being gifted PJs proclaiming he’s a superhero. About the friend whose boy loved wearing dresses until he started school, and another whose little boy wanted his face painted the same pink-and-purple cat as his friend, who happened to be a girl, and was told “you want different colours though, don’t you?” and “how about a tiger instead?”
I know it seems like small stuff. If it only happened now and then this kind of thing would be laughable. But it happens all the time, and very quickly our kids get to understand what is expected of them because of the gender they are assigned at birth according to the genitals they are born with – our girls learn to be cute, and sweet, and passive, and our boys are congratulated for confidence and assertiveness. Or many of them do. As they get older, the kids who don’t fit these moulds are bullied for being too queer, too sensitive, too bold, too pushy. All because they don’t embody an arbitrary set of preferences assumed on the basis of what is between their legs.
As parents we all want our children to be happy, so it’s understandable that we might wish for them to fall somewhere inside the “norm”. To have wants and desires that align with the majority. To express themselves in a way that doesn’t make them a target. But we also have absolutely no control over this – they will be whoever they are “meant” to be, and if we can’t accept and encourage them, they will learn to suppress their natural inclinations and invest energy that should be put to use exploring and enjoying life in attempting to mimic whatever model of male and female is offered to them.
In that room that night, every single person was being given express permission to be their true selves. Everyone was welcome. Everyone was ok. You might not have been able to tell who were the girls and who were the boys, who was straight and who was queer, but it didn’t matter. We were all just people, dancing and smiling and looking out for each other. It was beautiful. It was important. It gave me a glimpse of a future that is possible for our children, if we just spend a little less time encouraging them to conform and more doing our bit to create a world with space for everybody.